Old Spookses’ Pass, Malcolm’s Katie and Other Poems

by Isabella Valancy Crawford




The silver fangs of the mighty axe,
    Bit to the blood of our giant boles;
It smote our breasts and smote our backs,
    Thunder’d the front-cleared leaves—
        As sped in fire,
The whirl and flame of scarlet leaves,
        With strong desire
Leaped to the air our captive souls.

While down our corpses thunder’d,
The air at our strong souls gazed and wondered;
    And cried to us, “Ye
Are full of all mystery to me!
    I saw but thy plumes of leaves,
    Thy sinewy roots and lusty branches,
And fond and anxious,
    I laid my ear and my restless breast
    By each pride-high crest;
        And softly stole
And listen’d by limb and listen’d by bole,
Nor ever the stir of a soul,
        Heard I in ye—
    Great is the mystery!”

The strong, brown eagle plung’d from his peak,
From the hollow iron of his beak; [Page 130]
The wood pigeon fell; its breast of blue
Cold with sharp death all thro’ and thro’,
        To our ghosts he cried.
        “With talons of steel,
        I hold the storm;
    Where the high peaks reel,
        My young lie warm
In the wind-rock’d spaces of air I bide;
    My wings too wide—
Too angry strong for the emerald gyves,
Of woodland cell where the meek drove thrives.
    And when at the bar,
Of morn I smote with my breast its star,
        And under—
My wings grew purple, the jealous thunder,
    With the flame of the skies
Hot in my breast, and red in my eyes;
    From peak to peak of sunrise pil’d
That set space glowing,
With flames from air-based crater’s blowing—
    I downward swept, beguiled
By the close-set forest gilded and spread
A sea for the lordly tread,
    Of a God’s war-ship—
I broke its leafy turf with my breast;
        My iron lip
I dipp’d in the cool of each whispering crest;
    From thy leafy steeps,
    I saw in my deeps,
Red coral the flame necked oriole—
But never the stir of a soul [Page 131]
        Heard I in ye—
    Great is the mystery!”

        From its ferny coasts,
The river gazed at our strong, free ghosts,
    And with rocky fingers shed
    Apart the silver curls of its head;
Laid its murmuring hands,
On the reedy bands;
            And at gaze
Stood in the half moon’s of brown, still bays;
Like gloss’d eyes of stags
Its round pools gaz’d from the rusty flags,
    At our ghostly crests
At the bark-shields strong on our phantom breasts;
            And its tide
Took lip and tongue and cried.
            “I have push’d apart
            The mountain’s heart;
        I have trod the valley down;
            With strong hands curled,
            Have caught and hurled,
        To the earth the high hill’s crown!
    My brow I thrust,
    Through sultry dust,
That the lean wolf howl’d upon;

      I drove my tides,
    Between the sides,
Of the bellowing canon. [Page 132]

    From the chrystal shoulders,
    I hurled my boulders

  On the bridge’s iron span.
    When I rear’d my head
    From its old time bed,
Shook the pale cities of man!

    I have run a course
      With the swift, wild horse;
I have thunder’d pace for pace,
    With the rushing herds—
    I have caught the beards
Of the swift stars in the race!

    Neither moon nor sun
    Could me out-run;
Deep cag’d in my silver bars,
    I hurried with me,
    To the shouting sea,

  Their light and the light of the stars!

    The reeling earth
    In furious mirth
With sledges of ice I smote.
    I whirled my sword,

      Where the pale berg roar’d,
I took the ship by the throat!

    With stagnant breath
    I called chill Death
My guest to the hot bayou. [Page 133]
      I built men’s graves
    With strong thew’d waves
That thing that my strength might do.

    I did right well—
    Men cried “From Hell

  The might of Thy hand is given!”
    By loose rocks stoned
    The stout quays groaned,
Sleek sands by my spear were riven.

    O’er shining slides,

      On my gloss’d tides,
The brown cribs close woven roll’d;
    The stout logs sprung,
    Their height among
My loud whirls of white and gold!

    The great raft prest,
    My calm, broad breast—
A dream thro’ my shady trance,
    The light canoe—
    A spirit flew—

  The pulse of my blue expanse.

    Wing’d swift the ships,
    My foaming lips
Made rich with dewy kisses,
    All night and morn,

      Field’s red with corn,
And where the mill-wheel hisses. [Page 134]

    And shivers and sobs,
    With lab’ring throbs,
With its whirls my strong palms play’d.
      I parted my flags,
    For thirsty stags,
On the necks of arches laid.

    To the dry-vined town
    My tide roll’d down—
  Dry lips and throats a-quiver,
    Rent sky and sod
    With shouts “From God
The strength of the mighty river!”

    I, list’ning, heard

      The soft-song’d bird;
The beetle about thy boles.
    The calling breeze
    In thy crests, O Trees—
Never the voices of souls!”



We, freed souls, of the Trees look’d down
On the river’s shining eyes of brown;
        And upward smiled
At the tender air and its warrior child,
        The iron eagle strong and wild.

    “No will of ours,
The captive souls of our barky tow’rs;
    “His the deed
Who laid in the secret earth the seed; [Page 135]
    And with strong hand
    Knitted each woody fetter and band.
        Never, ye
    Ask of the tree,
The “Wherefore” or “Why” the tall trees stand,
Built in their places on the land!
    Their souls unknit;
With any wisdom or any wit,
    The subtle “Why,”
Ask ye not of earth or sky—
    But one command it. [Page 136]